Film Review: WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL (directed by Rob Garver)

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by Tony Frankel on December 29, 2020

in Film


Now available on Film Movement Plus is a documentary that is as deliciously entertaining as the subject: Pauline Kael, mid-century film critic for The New Yorker magazine (1968-91) and author of 13 books.

Using film clips from dozens and dozens of well-known movies to emphasize her points, we hear the words of Kael herself (voiced by Sarah Jessica Parker) from reviews, essays and other writings. Director Rob Garver also splices in Kael on various talk shows — many times defending her style (which a male critic would never have had to do I suspect); sound bites from interviews with famous people, such as Woody Allen; and ruminations from, among others, her daughter, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, and critic Camille Paglia who elucidate Kael’s life and motivations.

While she missed the era of the Algonquin Club’s Round Table, she maintained, cigarette at the ready, a droll, pointed, intelligent, observant, razor-sharp incisiveness in her commentary — not to mention a fierce self-esteem. And as with powerful women such as Dorothy Parker, she could be harsh to the point of infuriating. But that’s what critics do. Or at least they used to. Now, more and more critics are becoming cheerleaders for the arts. I suspect that Kael would react to our “thumbs up/thumbs down” approach in today’s criticism with a completely different digit.

photos courtesy Juno Films

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
Juno Films
documentary |

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